Less than one month until I will be back at the Norristown Courthouse awaiting Cosby’s sentencing. I still remember the day news broke that Cosby was charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault on December 30, 2015. I can still feel the shock I felt in my body as a man so many around the world adored was being charged with horrific crimes. For over twenty years I have been counseling people who have lived through different kinds of abuse and trauma.
One of the advantages of the Cosby story and other recent breaking stories of sexual assault and harassment is it gives patients more courage to speak up about things that have happened to them. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network) someone in our country is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. One of the worst parts about sexual assault is feeling at fault and like, “no one will ever believe me.”
After I published an op Ed in early 2016 I connected with many of the Cosby accusers. I developed connections with some of them and began talking with them about how life had changed once they came forward on national television and other national media outlets. Repeatedly they shared with me that they were, “slut shamed,” and told to keep their mouths shut. Some of these women were made to feel like criminals by people in their own families. While I found this very disturbing it also felt very familiar. On many occasions I have witnessed my patients being disbelieved or shunned by family members once they broke their silence. For instance, recently I was working with a twenty year old college sophomore who was molested by a team coach during high school. One day she announced in our session, “I have to tell you something.” For weeks to follow she recounted incidents where she was alone with the coach and how he took advantage of her youth and vulnerability. Her life changed when the molestation began. She had been following the Cosby story and she told me she was inspired “by all those brave women.” She could relate to the shame and fear they reported feeling from the moment of the alleged attack by Cosby.
When I asked my patient, “What made you decide to speak now,” she told me, “I am so sick of feeling depressed, isolated, and hateful towards my body.” After we spent a couple of months working through some of her feelings in therapy she decided it was time to tell her parents. We were not sure how they would react and we knew there was a chance they would not believe her. Not because she ever lied to them before. My heart broke for her when she told me how they reacted. Instead of asking her questions or getting emotional about her story her mom, dad and younger sister told her, “Why would you ever say something like that? Coach….would never do that to anyone.”
There were times in session when I just wanted to wrap my arms around her. That is not what she needed. She needed me to tell her that her family’s reaction was about them. Our society is finally beginning to out the enablers that aid in keeping stories of abuse silent. Rather than pity my patient I tried to empower her by helping her understand the role of denial in stories of abuse. At times we have talked about what I experienced sitting in both Cosby trials. We talked about all the people who tried to create the Cosby witnesses as liars while Cosby and his supporters sat in court smug and detached. I shared with her some about other patients I have worked with whose family had a very similar reaction. Sometimes it helps to know we are not alone, especially after surviving any type of abuse or trauma.
As the sentencing day for Cosby gets closer my hope is we can focus on the hope that comes from this trial, no matter the outcome. Each day I sat in Cosby court during both trials I thought about sessions I had and was continuing to have with patients who reported being sexually assaulted or abused by mentors, parents, religious leaders, coaches, family friends and teachers. I think it will be very difficult to be present in the Cosby sentencing because even though the jury found him guilty on all three counts of aggravated indecent assault, he has taken no responsibility. Rather than stay in the rage while I go back to the courtroom for sentencing, I want to stay connected to the hope I feel for all of the Cosby accusers and patients I have worked with who bravely have shared their own horror with me. Most times patients refuse to report their abuse because they do not want to be re-traumatized or have to re-live the nightmare they already survived. The worst part about the Cosby story and my patient’s story is that they have been made to feel disbelieved and degraded for speaking the truth. We cannot change the denial that many people stay attached to. But we can honor all the warriors of the Cosby story and anyone we know who has courageously spoken out after being sexually assaulted or abused. It is not the speaking itself that is the problem, it is that it happened that is the problem. As the world watches what could be the final chapter of the Cosby sexual abuse scandal I hope you can hold that thought and tell it to anyone you know who has lived through this kind of trauma!